By Erika Hueneke
A family ski trip may sound more like a slog than a smashing good time. But don’t let the logistics deter you. Equip your brood for a ski vacay for the books with the following expert advice.
The experts agree: Planning is crucial to avoid long lines, missed opportunities, and stressful on-the-spot decision-making. “Hotels should be booked well in advance, especially for weekends or holidays,” says Katie Brown, a Piedmont, California, Virtuoso travel advisor. And ski-in/ski-out always merits the splurge, according to Jennifer Shanks, a Newton, Massachusetts-based Virtuoso agency owner. “The convenience of not needing to pack the car every morning, and the ability to escape the crowds, prepare your own lunch, and take away an extra layer if needed, are lifesavers when skiing with kids,” she says. You can also bundle ski lessons, lift tickets, and rental gear ahead of time, often at a discount.
Pull off perfect timing.
While many major resorts in North America and Europe stay open from around Thanksgiving through March, not all dates are created equal. For predictable snow, Brown targets February, though this timing can be difficult with school schedules. She also vouches for March: “Most ski resorts still have wonderful snow, but in general the weather’s a bit warmer, meaning you don’t have to pack as many layers. It can be a great spring-break alternative to avoid the crowds.”
“Ski schools are a great starter to give kids the basics ,” Brown says. In group lessons, your kids can meet other children, or if siblings of different age groups want to stay together, try private lessons. A class for the littles also allows for some me-time: “Adults can ski the terrain they’re happiest on while their kids attend ski school. Then they all can spend a few hours skiing together,” Shanks says. And don’t overlook lessons for yourself. Cincinnati, Ohio-based Virtuoso travel advisor Michelle Ellis always recommends lessons, even for adults, to get comfortable with the mountain. “The lesson pays for itself in what you learn about runs and lifts that are less crowded,” she says.
Prepare for the cold.
“There’s no better way to ruin a ski holiday than the words, ‘I’m cold!’” says Amiel Lindenbaum, a Hollywood, Florida-based Virtuoso travel advisor. His advice: Dry out the kids’ gear when you return to your room at night. It’s a pain, but essential for a warm, happy fam the next day. For Ellis, it’s all about the layers. “Once kids are cold and tired, that’s when the meltdowns and injuries occur,” she says. Make sure each kid has two pairs of gloves or mittens, two hats, and hand and feet warmers.
Pack like a pro.
Coming well-armed can make a day on the mountain. “Extra items to remember: sunscreen, lip balm, and a knit hat for après-ski,” suggests Ray McNutt, ski concierge manager for The Little Nell hotel in Aspen, Colorado. And don’t forget the food, Ellis says. “Snacks are key, as sometimes you get pretty far away from the closest concession area.”
One piece of advice all family-ski specialists underscore: Schedule down time. “It pays to factor a relaxed day into the middle of your vacation,” Lindenbaum says. “Muscles get tired, and constant early mornings can be a grind. Consider a day of activities like snowmobiling or snowshoeing.” The concierge team at Montage Deer Valley in Park City, Utah, can arrange horse-drawn sleigh rides, while The Little Nell offers an alpine coaster, sledding, and ice skating. Overall, remember it’s a vacation, not an Olympic event, and family comes first. “Kids love nature’s playground,” says Brown. “You have easy resources right outside your door to entertain everyone, plus cozy quality time in the evenings.”